Matt Crouch in action during Adelaide's clash with Fremantle in round three, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

THE POWERFUL combination of Matt Crouch's "intense competitive desire" and a key physical change have helped the Adelaide star reach his 150th game this week as a re-made modern midfielder, according to Crows high performance boss Darren Burgess.

Crouch has thrived again as a leading ball-winner since round 19 last season, but the 2017 All-Australian's career appeared at a crossroads halfway through the year as he endured a long stint in the SANFL following just 11 AFL games in 2022.

Burgess remembers watching the professional 29-year-old week after week in the state league, leading young players, ignoring fierce criticism, and pushing on when he was targeted physically by opposition teams.

The key to getting through that period and opening the door to his eventual AFL return was a trait that Burgess has seen in some of the game's best inside midfielders.

"What Matt has is that intense competitive desire and it's one of those traits that you see in a few people where every contest is valued," Burgess told

"Maybe it happened to him once or twice driving to a couple of SANFL games where he was thinking, 'Is this where I'm going to end up?' But as soon as the ball is bounced, he just has to win that ball and invariably does.

"I reckon that that's a fair part of the battle, particularly for a competitive onballer like him, and that competitive nature will get you through a whole lot of situations.

"It was a real credit to him, because I imagine there were some pretty dark moments there where he wondered what was going to happen [with his career]. But he just kept playing through it and listening to the coaches and doing what they asked him to do."

Matt Crouch is tackled by Patrick Dangerfield during Adelaide's clash with Geelong in round two, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Crouch showed resilience through a run of 19 games in the SANFL, Burgess said, and handled a difficult period in his career as a professional while also growing a family and negotiating a contract extension.

He finished 2023 with a burst of seven impressive games at AFL level and then got to work on progressing the physical changes he needed to make to become the player the Crows needed him to be.

Having battled groin injuries that wrecked his 2021 season and previous hip issues that required surgery, the 2017 club champion was not known for his speed or ability to break away from congestion.

But with a clean bill of health, Burgess and the Crows wanted to add a level of burst speed to Crouch's game that would help him get to the outside of stoppages quicker, while remaining an accomplished inside ball-winner.


"His focus was to improve his ability to explode from stoppage, and he probably hadn't had the confidence in his body to do that because of the hip and groin history that he had," Burgess said.

"So he worked on that with the strength staff here and got that confidence back, and then we topped up his ability to work on his repeat speed. The combination of those two gave him the physical tools to do what he and the coaches wanted him to do.

"The really good midfielders can get the ball in a contest and then explode out, so they don't need to look for somebody. Now Matt has that ability because of his hard work during the off-season and pre-season periods."

The work Crouch put in during the summer months is also evident in his ability to stand up in tackles to get a handball off and the increased length in his kicking, Burgess said.  

With a team-high seven clearances per game this season (No.7 in the AFL), the left-footer remains a player who primarily wins the ball on the inside and feeds to teammates, averaging 20 handballs a game among his 29.8 disposals (No.9 in the AFL).

But Burgess said Crouch was no longer reliant on solely feeding the Crows' dynamic stoppage players, like Jake Soligo and Izak Rankine this season, to have an impact with his clearances.

"The game has definitely got quicker and it's far more of a transition game, so I think most players have had to adjust to the change in the game, and Matt is no different," Burgess said.

"But ultimately your ability to win one-on-one contests is still massive, so if you can combine that absolute strength that he has with the ability to get up and down the ground, it's a pretty impressive weapon.

"Now he's got that, as well as the game sense that he's developed over 150 AFL games and, as of the last couple years, a handful of SANFL games as well.

"I think he's a really good example of what the modern midfielder needs from a physical point of view, and he's more than capable of playing the game for many years to come."